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Bookworm

Updated 11 days ago

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Intellectual, accessible, and provocative literary conversations.

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Intellectual, accessible, and provocative literary conversations.

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387 Ratings
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The incomparable Silverblatt

By cookie11ru - Nov 01 2019
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I wonder if he had that voice as a child?

The Best

By FloydLQ - Sep 28 2018
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The greatest Silverblatt is the most insightful reader alive

iTunes Ratings

387 Ratings
Average Ratings
270
51
27
19
20

The incomparable Silverblatt

By cookie11ru - Nov 01 2019
Read more
I wonder if he had that voice as a child?

The Best

By FloydLQ - Sep 28 2018
Read more
The greatest Silverblatt is the most insightful reader alive
Cover image of Bookworm

Bookworm

Latest release on May 28, 2020

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Intellectual, accessible, and provocative literary conversations.

Rank #1: Ben Lerner: The Topeka School

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Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04 find their synthesis in The Topeka School, the third in his Hegelian trilogy. Lerner speaks about language that isn’t just a technology of posturing or combat, but a mode of meaningful social connection, and about building a character who unlearns what had formed and deformed him. The conclusion to a thoroughly comprehended, intuitively understood, and deeply felt trilogy about a writer-to-be’s relationship with language itself.

Jan 09 2020

28mins

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Rank #2: Jenny Offill: Weather

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Jenny Offill’s Weather is a book about people living very much in our times. Lizzie Benson becomes a librarian who helps people with their concerns about the future, then she becomes the letter writer for the popular podcast Hell and High Water. This is a podcast that teaches people how to live in the present moment without despair. Offill says her primary interest is to bring the sublime into the everyday, and the ordinary into the sublime: Weather is about the spirituality of dailiness.

Mar 12 2020

28mins

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Rank #3: Rebecca Solnit: Recollections of My Nonexistence

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Recollections of My Nonexistence is a personal, cultural, political, and journalistic hybrid narrative about formative years in the life of Rebecca Solnit. A first-person account from San Francisco in the 1980s, she describes finding her voice, and invokes the possibility of others finding their voices as well. Nobody should have to carry the burden of nonexistence. Solnit finds beauty in the contemporary revolution of storytelling, and says each voice has a capacity to bear witness to what’s happened.

Book excerpt: Recollections of My Nonexistence Chapter 1:

One day long ago, I looked at myself as I faced a full length mirror and saw my image darken and soften and then seem to retreat, as though I was vanishing from the world rather than that my mind was shutting it out. I steadied my- self on the door frame just across the hall from the mirror, and then my legs crumpled under me. My own image drifted away from me into darkness, as though I was only a ghost fading even from my own sight.

I blacked out occasionally and had dizzy spells often in those days, but this time was memorable because it appeared as though it wasn’t that the world was vanishing from my consciousness but that I was vanishing from the world. I was the person who was vanishing and the disembodied person watching her from a distance, both and neither. In those days, I was trying to disappear and to appear, trying to be safe and to be someone, and those agendas were at often odds with each other. And I was watching myself to see if I could read in the mirror what I could be and whether I was good enough and whether all the things I’d been told about myself were true.

To be a young woman is to face your own annihilation in in- numerable ways or to flee it or the knowledge of it, or all these things at once. “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world,” said Edgar Allan Poe, who must not have imagined it from the perspective of women who prefer to live. I was trying not to be the subject of someone else’s poetry and not to get killed; I was trying to find a poetics of my own, with no maps, no guides, not much to go on. They might have been out there, but I hadn’t located them yet.

The struggle to find a poetry in which your survival rather than your defeat is celebrated, perhaps to find your own voice to insist upon that, or to at least find a way to survive amidst an ethos that relishes your erasures and failures is work that many and perhaps most young women have to do. In those early years, I did not do it particularly well or clearly, but I did it ferociously.

I was often unaware of what and why I was resisting, and so my defiance was murky, incoherent, erratic. Those years of not succumbing, or of succumbing like someone sinking into a morass and then flailing to escape, again and again, come back to me now as I see young women around me fighting the same battles. The fight wasn’t just to survive bodily, though that could be intense enough, but to survive as a person possessed of rights, including the right to participation and dignity and a voice. More than survive, then: to live.

The director, writer, and actor Brit Marling said recently, “Part of what keeps you sitting in that chair in that room enduring harassment or abuse from a man in power is that, as a woman, you have rarely seen another end for yourself. In the novels you’ve read, in the films you’ve seen, in the stories you’ve been told since birth, the women so frequently meet disastrous ends.”

The mirror in which I saw myself disappear was in the apartment I inhabited for a quarter century, beginning in the last months of my teens. The first several years there were the era of my fiercest battles, some of which I won, some of which left scars I still carry, many of which so formed me that I cannot say I wish that it had all been otherwise, for then I would have been someone else entirely, and she does not exist. I do. But I can wish that the young women who come after me might skip some of the old obstacles, and some of my writing has been toward that end, at least by naming those obstacles.

Mar 26 2020

28mins

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Rank #4: André Aciman: Find Me

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André Aciman talks about pathways to love; thank you André Aciman. Following Call Me by Your Name, this is a generational novel about life, time, and resumption—being not only desirable but liking yourself too. Aciman asks: isn’t it wonderful when life finds us? In Find Me, strokes of luck are destiny.

Jan 02 2020

28mins

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Rank #5: Stephen Wright: Processed Cheese

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The entertaining syntax and vocabulary of Stephen Wright build a replica of our lunatic times in his new book, Processed Cheese. He writes about the need for money in our degraded era, the end of quality and the beginning of junk: Processed Cheese finds hilarity in the tragedy of contemporary life. A manic life feels worth living in this thoroughly human book that blows up in your face.

Mar 19 2020

28mins

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Rank #6: Tobias Wolff: This Boy’s Life

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One of the first books within a huge movement that restored respectability to memoirs, This Boy’s Life celebrates its thirtieth anniversary, and Tobias Wolff celebrates thirty years since being on Bookworm. Honest and readable writing, This Boy’s Life makes its way from beginning to end not as if a memoir, but as if life itself is the adventure we hope for, the making of a writer: a mother’s divorce, a terrifying first stepfather, an escape from home to a thoroughly-unprepared-for prep school; the details of a childhood turned desperate. Wolff says that one can never know what sort of life a book will have.

Feb 13 2020

28mins

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Rank #7: Garth Greenwell: Cleanness

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Garth Greenwell is a writer of delicacy, beauty, and importance, writing about things you haven’t read about before. A poet turned fiction writer, Greenwell discusses engaging sex through its human facets and aspects, and comma-by-comma telling a reader what is thought and felt by his characters. Cleanness is a calm and passionate book with questions about power, cruelty, tenderness, and the fear that comes along when you reveal yourself to another person. Seeking human truths, Greenwell says he rejected easy stories and wrote into an abyss.

Jan 30 2020

28mins

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Rank #8: Chris Ware: Rusty Brown

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Chris Ware’s Rusty Brown depicts life the way it is: jam packed with details, the closer you look the ever more there is. The titular and central character of Rusty Brown is just a centerpiece in a snowflake of grief around which every character orbits; there is also a bully, a teacher, and a failed sci-fi novelist father. Readers are taken to sorrows of being, painful moments of each character, moments inside all of us: the replicating and unavoidable cosmic horrors of self-consciousness. Nothing escapes the attention of this graphic novel that locates people in their space and time. Ware speaks about breathing life into images, and never giving up on gripping the reader.

Dec 12 2019

28mins

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Edited by André Naffis-Sahely The Heart of a Stranger: An Anthology of Exile Literature

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Anthologist André Naffis-Sahely says he provided a historical perspective to The Heart of a Stranger: An Anthology of Exile Literature. From Ancient Egypt to contemporary poetry, six continents, over a hundred contributors, drawn from twenty-four languages, Naffis-Sahely calls it a platform for writers who need wider exposure. It is unexplored world literature that is not part of any canon but that includes the classics; it is moving political poetry that is not merely political—as beautiful and moving as any poetry at all. It is lost souls restoring their sense of home.

An excerpt from The Heart of a Stranger: An Anthology of Exile Literature. 

Civilization begets exile; in fact, being banished from one’s home lies at the root of our earliest stories, whether human or divine [...] and my aim with this anthology was to produce a miniature history of humanity as seen through the prism of exile. In fact, if our earliest texts are any indication, the very concept of recorded history — and literature — appears to spring out of the necessity of exile, preserving in our minds what had been bloodily erased on earth.
____________________________________________________

Although Ovid taught us to see the “Exile” as a whiny, withered husk forever longing for the branch it was unhappily torn from, I wanted this anthology to showcase an alternative genealogy of misfits, rebels, heretics, contrarians, activists and revolutionaries. Exile, this anthology argues, can be defiant, like Emma Goldman aboard the USS Buford, or Leon Trotsky’s stirring “Letter to the Workers of the USSR”, written months before Stalin’s pickaxe found him in Mexico City; it can be horrifying, as the Polish legionnaires learnt while fighting to oppress a people they knew nothing about in Haiti; it can be depressing, like Giacomo Leopardi’s poem on Italy’s sorry state following the tumults of the Napoleonic Wars; however, it can speak of heroism, like the sacrifices made by poets such as Yannis Ritsos and Abdellatif Laâbi, all of whom spent long years in prison for their peaceful activism, or for their 'crimes of opinion'.

Excerpted fromThe Heart of a Stranger: An Anthology of Exile Literature. Copyright © 2020 All rights reserved.

May 28 2020

28mins

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Victoria Chang: Love, Love (Part Two)

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In show two of two, Victoria Chang discusses Love, Love, her children’s novel written in verse—poetry written for children. Imagistic, literary, and philosophical writing is made easy and legible, clear and direct, to demonstrate how directly language can express one’s rich inner world. A ten year-old Chinese-American girl lives in a Detroit suburb, and Love, Love delivers the writer’s personal experience.

An excerpt from “Love,” by Victoria Chang.

Frontal Lobe

My   Father’s   Frontal    Lobe—died
unpeacefully of a stroke on June 24,
2009 at Scripps  Memorial Hospital in
San Diego, California.  Born January 20,
1940, the frontal lobe enjoyed a good
life.  The frontal  lobe  loved being  the
boss.  It tried to talk again but someone
put a bag over it.  When the frontal
lobe died, it sucked in its lips like a
window pulled shut.  At the funeral for
his words, my father wouldn’t stop
talking and his love passed through me,
fell onto the ground that wasn’t there. 
I could hear someone stomping their
feet.  The body is as confusing as
language—was his frontal lobe having a
tantrum or dancing?  When I took my
father’s phone away, his words died in
the plastic coffin.  At the funeral for his
words, we argued about my
miscarriage. It’s not really a baby, he
said.  I ran out of words, stomped out
to shake the dead baby awake.  I
thought of the tech who put the wand
down, quietly left the room when she
couldn’t find the heartbeat.  I
understood then that darkness is falling
without an end.  That darkness is not
the absorption of color but the
absorption of language.

Copyright © 2020 by Victoria Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 3, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

May 21 2020

28mins

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Victoria Chang: Obit (Part One)

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In show one of two, Victoria Chang discusses writing poetry that gets close to human feeling, while knowing that language will never be able to get to the entirety of that feeling. Written after her mother died, Obit, her new book, is an inch from sorrow; it’s a remarkable book for anyone dealing with grief (as we all are during the pandemic). Obit is as interested in consolation and acceptance as it is in the fearsome expression of the unbearable aspects of grief.

An excerpt from “Obit,” by Victoria Chang.

Ambition

Ambition—died on August 3, 2015, a
sudden death. I buried ambition in the
forest, next to distress. They used to
take walks together until ambition
pushed distress off the embankment.
Now, they put a bracelet around my
father’s ankle. The alarm rings when
he gets too close to the door. His
ambitious nature makes him walk to
the door a lot. When the alarm rings,
he gets distressed. He remembers that
he wants to find my house. He thinks
he can find my house. His fingerprints
have long vanished from my house.
Some criminals put their fingers on
electric coils of a stove to erase their
fingerprints. But it only makes them
easier to find. They found my father in
the middle of the road last month, still
like a bulbless lamp, unable to recall its
function, confused like the moon. At
the zoo, a great bald eagle sits in a
small cage because of a missing wing.
Its remaining wing is grief. Above the
eagle,  a   bird  flying  is  the  eagle’s
memory and its prey, the future.

Copyright © 2018 by Victoria Chang. Originally published in West Branch. Used with the permission of the poet.

The Clock

The Clock—died on June 24, 2009 and
it was untimely.  How many times my
father has failed the clock test.  Once I
heard a scientist with Alzheimer’s on
the radio, trying to figure out why he
could no longer draw a clock.  It had to
do with the superposition of three
types.  The hours represented by 1-12,
the  minutes  where  a  1  no  longer
represents  1  but  a  5,  and  a  2  now
represents 10, then the second hand
that measures 1 to 60.  I sat at the
stoplight and thought of the clock, its
perfect circle and its superpositions, all
the layers of complication on a plane of
thought, yet the healthy read the clock
in one single instant without a second
thought.  I think about my father and
his lack of first thoughts, how every
thought is a second or third or fourth
thought, unable to locate the first most
important thought.  I wonder about the
man on the radio and how far his brain
has degenerated since.  Marvel at how
far  our  brains  allow  language  to
wander  without  looking  back  but
knowing where the pier is.   If you
unfold an origami swan, and flatten the
paper, is the paper sad because it has
seen the shape of the swan or does it
aspire towards flatness, a life without
creases?  My father is the paper.  He
remembers the swan but can’t name it. 
He no longer knows the paper swan
represents an animal swan.  His brain is
the water the animal swan once swam
in, holds everything, but when thawed,
all the fish disappear.  Most of the
words we say have something to do
with fish.  And when they’re gone,
they’re gone.

Copyright © 2018 by Victoria Chang. Originally published in Kenyon Review. Used with the permission of the poet.

May 14 2020

28mins

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Benjamin Moser: Sontag: Her Life and Work

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Benjamin Moser recently won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography Sontag: Her Life and Work.

In this show from the archives, he talks about Susan Sontag‘s ideology: reading more books, going to more plays, traveling more, learning more, taking learning seriously, and taking culture seriously. Sontag: Her Life and Work is interested in the writing and ideas of Susan Sontag; attacking the philistines and treasuring knowledge.

You can listen to the original episode here.

May 07 2020

28mins

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Daniel Kehlmann: Tyll

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Daniel Kehlmann describes his new novel, Tyll, as dark, frightening, and murky—in a good way. The lead character is a mythic, famous folkloric jester, Tyll Eulenspiegel, a seventeenth-century king of pranksters, capable of as much amusement as detriment. A traveling entertainer, tightrope walker, juggler, singer and dancer, Tyll journeys through a continent devastated by the Thirty Years’ War. Kehlmann discusses early modernity, its lack of hygiene, and sending his imagination into a past he researched. This novel of surreal entertainment is a jester itself. 

An excerpt from Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann.

Kings in Winter

It was November. The wine supply was exhausted, and because the well in the garden was filthy, they drank nothing but milk. Since they could no longer afford candles, the whole court went to bed in the evening with the sun. The state of affairs was not good, yet there were still princes who would die for Liz. Recently, one of them had been here in The Hague, Christian von Braunschweig, and had promised her to have pour dieu et pour elle embroidered on his standard, and afterward, he had sworn fervently, he would win or die for her. He was an excited hero, so moved by himself that tears came to his eyes. Friedrich had patted him reassuringly on the shoulder, and she had given him her handkerchief, but then he had burst into tears once again, so overwhelmed was he by the thought of possessing a handkerchief of hers. She had given him a royal blessing, and, deeply stirred, he had gone on his way.

Naturally, he would not accomplish it, neither for God nor for her. This prince had few soldiers and no money, nor was he particularly clever. It would take men of a different caliber to defeat Wallenstein, someone like the Swedish king, say, who had recently come down on the Empire like a storm and had so far won all the battles he had fought. He was the one she should have married long ago, according to Papa’s plans, but he hadn’t wanted her.

It was almost twenty years ago that she had instead married her poor Friedrich. Twenty German years, a whirl of events and faces and noise and bad weather and even worse food and completely wretched theater.

She had missed good theater more than anything else, from the beginning, even more than palatable food. In German lands real theater was unknown; there, pitiful players roamed through the rain and screamed and hopped and farted and brawled. This was probably due to the cumbersome language. It was no language for theater, it was a brew of groans and harsh grunts, it was a language that sounded like someone struggling not to choke, like a cow having a coughing fit, like a man with beer coming out his nose. What was a poet supposed to do with this language? She had given German literature a try, first that Opitz and then someone else, whose name she had forgotten; she could not commit to memory these people who were always named Krautbacher or Engelkrämer or Kargholz-steingrömpl, and when you had grown up with Chaucer, and John Donne had dedicated verses to you—“fair phoenix bride,” he had called her, “and from thine eye all lesser birds will take their jollity”—then even with the utmost politeness you could not bring yourself to find any merit in all this German bleating.

She often thought back to the court theater in Whitehall. She thought of the small gestures of the actors, of the long sentences, their ever-varying, nearly musical rhythm, now swift and clattering along, now dying gradually away, now questioning, now bristling with authority. There had been theater performances whenever she came to the court to visit her parents. People stood on the stage and dissembled, but she had grasped at once that this was not so at all and that the dissembling too was merely a mask, for it was not the theater that was false, no, everything else was pretense, disguise, and frippery, everything that was not theater was false. On the stage people were themselves, completely true, fully transparent.

In real life no one spoke in soliloquies. Everyone kept his thoughts to himself, faces could not be read, everyone dragged the dead weight of his secrets. No one stood alone in his room and spoke aloud about his desires and fears, but when Burbage did so on the stage, in his rasping voice, his very thin fingers at eye level, it seemed unnatural that men should forever conceal what transpired within them. And what words he used! Rich words, rare, shimmering like cloth of gold—sentences so perfectly constructed that they were beyond anything you yourself could ever have managed. This is how things should be, the theater told you, this is how you should talk, how you should hold yourself, how you should feel, this is what it would be like to be a true human being.

When the performance was over and the applause faded, the actors returned to the state of paltriness. After taking their bows, they stood like extinguished candles. Then they approached, bending down low, Alleyn and Kemp and the great Burbage himself, to kiss Papa’s hand, and if Papa asked them something, they answered like people whom language resisted and to whom no clear sentences occurred. Burbage’s face was waxy and weary, and there was nothing special anymore about his now rather ugly hands. Hard to believe how quickly the spirit of lightness had abandoned him.

That spirit had itself appeared in one of the plays, which had been performed on Allhallows. It was about an old duke on a magical island, who captured his enemies only to spare them in the end. At the time she had been unable to understand why he had been lenient, and when she thought about it today, she still didn’t understand. If she had Wallenstein or the Kaiser in her power, she would handle things differently! At the conclusion of the play the duke had simply released his ministering spirit, so that he might pass into the clouds, the air, the sunlight, and the blue of the sea, and had remained behind like an old sack of flour, a wrinkly actor who now briefly apologized that he had no more lines. The leading dramatist of the King’s Men had taken on the role himself at the time. He was not one of the great actors, not Kemp and certainly not Burbage. You could even tell by looking at him that he struggled to remember his lines, which none other than he himself had written. After the performance he had kissed her hand with soft lips, and because it had been impressed on her that at such moments she must always ask some question, she had inquired whether he had any children.

“Two daughters living. And a son.”

She waited, for now it would be Papa’s turn to say something. But Papa was silent. The dramatist looked at her. She looked at him, her heart beginning to pound. All the people in the room were waiting, all the lords with their silk collars, all the ladies with diadems and fans—they were looking at her. And she realized that she had to keep talking. This was just how Papa was. When you were counting on him, he left you in the lurch. She cleared her throat to gain time. But you don’t gain much time by clearing your throat. You can’t clear your throat for very long, it hardly gets you anywhere.

And so she said that she was very sorry to hear of the death of his son. The Lord gave and the Lord took away, his will passed our understanding, and his trials made us strong.

For the blink of an eye, she was proud of herself. It takes quite a bit to manage something like that before the whole court, you have to be well-bred and quick-witted too.

The dramatist had smiled and bowed his head, and suddenly she had the feeling that she had made a fool of herself in a manner difficult to describe. She sensed herself turning red, and because she felt ashamed of this too, she turned even redder. She cleared her throat once again and asked him the name of his son. Not that it interested her. But nothing else occurred to her.

He answered in a soft voice.

“Really?” she asked in surprise. “Hamlet?”

“Hamnet.” He drew a breath, then said pensively and as if to himself that, although he could not pretend to have borne his trial with that fortitude she praised, yet today, when it was his great fortune to behold the future’s maiden face, he would swear that such a life as his, comprising such currents as had brought him to this sea, could not be counted among the worst, and that thanks to this moment in her gracious presence, he was disposed to accept with gratitude every pain and tribulation that lay in his past or, indeed, in days to come.

Here she couldn’t think of anything else to say for the time being.

All well and good, Papa finally said. But shadows were cast on the future. There were more witches than ever. The Frenchman was treacherous. The recent unity of England and Scotland was still untested. Doom was lurking everywhere. But worst of all were the witches.

Doom might well lurk, the dramatist replied, that was the nature of doom, yet the hand of a mighty ruler held it off, as the mantle of the air held off the heavy cloud and dissolved it into gentle rain.

Now it was Papa who couldn’t think of anything to say. This was funny, because it didn’t happen often. Papa was looking at the dramatist, everyone was looking at Papa, no one said anything, and the silence had already lasted too long.

Finally Papa turned away—just like that, without a word. He did this often, it was one of his tricks to unsettle people. Normally they wondered for weeks afterward what they had done wrong and whether they had fallen out of favor. But the dramatist seemed to see through it. Bowing as he walked backward, he departed, a faint smile on his face.

*

“Do you think you’re better than everyone else, Liz?” her fool had recently asked her when she had told him about it. “Have seen more, know more, come from a better land than we do?”

“Yes,” she had said. “I do.”

“And do you think your father will save you? At the head of an army, is that what you think?”

“No, I don’t think that anymore.”

“Yes, you do. You still believe that one fine day he will turn up and make you into a queen again.”

“I am a queen.”

At that he laughed derisively, and she had to swallow and push back tears and remember that it was his very duty—to tell her what no one else dared. That was why you had fools, and even if you didn’t want a fool, you had to consent to one, for without a court jester a court was not a court, and if she and Friedrich no longer had a country, at least their court had to be in order.

There was something strange about this fool. She had sensed it at once when he had first appeared, last winter, when the days had been especially cold and life even more impoverished than usual. At that time, the two of them had suddenly stood outside her door, the scrawny young man in the motley jerkin and the tall woman.

They had looked exhausted and haggard, ill from travel­ing and from the dangers of the wilderness. But when they had danced for her, there was a harmony, a consonance of the voices and bodies, such as she had not witnessed ever since she had left England. Then he had juggled, and she had pulled out the flute, and then the two of them had performed a play about a guardian and his ward, and she had feigned death, and he had found her lifeless, and in his grief he had killed himself, where­upon she had awoken and, her face contorted with horror, had seized his knife to now take her life too. Liz knew the story; it was from a play of the King’s Men. Moved by the memory of something that had once had great significance in her life, she had asked the two of them whether they wouldn’t stay. “We don’t yet have a jester.”

He had made his debut by giving her a painting. No, it was not a painting, it was a white canvas with nothing on it. “Have it framed, little Liz, hang it up. Show it to the others!” Nothing gave him the right to address her like that, but at least he pro­nounced her name correctly, complete with the English z—he did it as well as if he had been there. “Show it to your husband, the beautiful picture, let the poor king see it. And everyone else!”

She had done so. She had a green landscape painting, which she didn’t like anyhow, taken out of its frame and replaced with the white canvas, and then the fool had hung up the painting in the large room that she and Friedrich called their throne room.

“It’s a magic picture, little Liz. No one born out of wed­lock can see it. No one stupid can see it. No one who has stolen money can see it. No one up to no good, no one who cannot be trusted, no one who’s a gallows bird or a thievish knave or an arsehole with ears can see it—for him, there’s no picture there!”

She hadn’t been able to help laughing.

“No, really, little Liz, tell the people! Bastards and dolts and villains and men ripe for the gallows, none of them can see anything, neither the blue sky nor the castle nor the wonderful woman on the balcony letting down her golden hair nor the angel behind her. Tell them, watch what happens!”

What had happened still astonished her, every single day, and it would never cease to astonish her. The visitors stood helplessly before the white picture and didn’t know what they were supposed to say. For it was complicated, after all. They knew that nothing was there, of course, but they weren’t sure whether Liz knew it too, and thus it was also conceivable that she would take someone who told her that nothing was there for illegitimate, stupid, or thieving. They racked their brains. Had a spell been cast on the picture, or had someone fooled Liz, or was she playing a joke on everyone? The fact that by then almost everyone who came to the court of the Winter King and Queen was either illegitimate or stupid or a thief or a person with ill intentions didn’t make matters easier.

In any case, not many visitors came these days. In the past people had come to see Liz and Friedrich with their own eyes, and some had also come to make promises, for even if scarcely anyone believed that Friedrich would rule over Bohemia again, it was nonetheless not completely impossible either. To promise something cost little: as long as the man was out of power, you didn’t have to keep your word, but if he reascended, he would remember those who had stuck by him in dark times. By this time, however, promises were all they received; no one brought presents anymore that were valuable enough to be turned into money.

With an impassive face she had shown Christian von Braunschweig the white canvas, too. Stupid, deceitful, and illegitimate people, she had explained, could not see the mag­nificent painting, and then she had observed with a pleasure difficult to describe how her tearful admirer had kept looking helplessly across at the wall where the picture, mocking and blank, withstood his pathos.

“This is the best gift anyone has ever given me,” she said to her fool.

“That’s not saying much, little Liz.”

“John Donne wrote me an ode. Fair phoenix bride, he called—”

“Little Liz, he was paid, he would have called you a stinking fish too if he had been given money for it. What do you think I would call you if you paid me better!”

“And I got a ruby necklace from the Kaiser, a diadem from the King of France.”

“Can I see it?”

She was silent.

“Did you have to sell it?”

She was silent.

“And who is John Dung anyway? What sort of fellow is that, and who is fearful Nick’s bride supposed to be?” She was silent.

“Had to give it to the pawnbroker, your diadem? And the necklace from the Kaiser, little Liz, who is wearing it now?”

Not even her poor king had dared to say anything about the picture. And when she had explained to him that it was only a joke and the canvas was not enchanted, he had merely nodded and gazed at her uneasily.

She had always known that he wasn’t the cleverest. From the beginning it had been obvious, but for a man of his rank it wasn’t important. A prince did nothing, and if he happened to be unusually clever, it was nearly a blot on his honor. Subordinates had to be clever. He was himself—that was enough, nothing more was necessary.

This was the way of the world. There were a few real people, and then there were the rest: a shadowy army, a host of figures in the background, a swarm of ants crawling over the earth and having in common with each other that they were lacking something. They were born and died, were like the flecks of fluttering life that made up a flock of birds—if one disappeared, you hardly noticed it. The people who mattered were few.

Excerpted from Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann. Copyright © 2020 by Daniel Kehlmann. All rights reserved.

Apr 30 2020

28mins

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Rob Doyle: Threshold

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Youthful nihilism, contradictory impulses, preferences and desires catch up with Rob Doyle in his explicitly autobiographical novel Threshold. It is a cerebral and playful book, with accounts and investigations from his travels, and a threshold that explores reality and fiction, desire and fascination. As a protagonist Doyle's quest is for a meaningful significance that transcends the mundane. His is a novel with more energy, more comedy, and more direness than your everyday novel. Doyle describes wanting to exact a toll by confronting the reader.

An excerpt from “Threshold,” by Rob Doyle.

Tent

Nesrin was a Kurdish artist who claimed to have slept with two of the 9/11 hijackers, simultaneously, during a trip to America when she was seventeen, weeks before the men perished in a ball of fire above Manhattan. It was almost certainly a lie, but Nesrin used it as the basis for a video work, Love Collision , which was shown at underground galleries and club nights in Berlin. The work comprised a hardcore porn film in which Nesrin has sex with two men, intercut with footage of cities at night and hedonistic dance parties. The three performers have verses from the Koran inscribed on their bodies – a clear nod to Theo van Gogh’s film Submission.

I knew all this because my friend Fran told me about Nesrin when he heard I was visiting Kassel to cover the documenta festival for an art magazine. Nesrin was living in the city, and Fran thought it worth putting us in touch even though she was, he wrote in an email, ‘definitely evil, but in an original way’. Under no circumstances should I go to bed with her if the possibility arose, he insisted. It would not – ‘repeat, not ’ – end well. I replied that there was more than enough scorched earth in my past already. ‘Ah yes,’ he wrote back. ‘Scorched Earth Rob, lives his life like a retreating Nazi.’

Nesrin was an obscure artist in more senses than one. I read a few descriptions online of works she’d exhibited, but no search result divulged what I really wanted to know: what she looked like. I could find no photographs bar a couple of shadowy, indistinct portraits that suggested a slight, dark-haired woman dressed in black. I emailed her and explained that I was a friend of Fran’s. I mentioned the dates of my stay in Kassel and said it’d be cool to meet up if she had time. Two days later, Nesrin wrote back that she would rather not meet, but asked if I would be willing to participate in an ongoing artistic production relating to ‘art tourists’ in Kassel. I wouldn’t have to do much, she explained, just follow occasional instructions that she would send by email or text; for the rest of the time I could go about my visit as normal. Curiosity outweighed wariness; I agreed to take part.

The present curator, Adam Szymczyk – a man so hip he didn’t even need vowels in his surname – had declared that the festival would address the multiple crises the world was currently enduring: mass migration, the renaissance of the far right, looming ecological catastrophe and so on. Leaving aside the crisis of his unpronounceable name, you could see Szymczyk’s point – it really did feel like emergency time on planet earth – but this institutional yoking of art to political engagement seemed symptomatic of a broader cultural synergy: everywhere you looked, art was becoming indistinguishable from social work, progressivist politics, liberal guilt. To join the tribe called contemporary art, it was required that you loudly declaim a humanitarian worldview and place your work at its service. Often, when I looked at contemporary art, I sensed I was meant to fall on my knees and flagellate myself. In the programme there was even a listed event entitled Shame on Us, relating to the refugee crisis. That was it: Szymczyk would not feel satisfied unless everyone who visited Kassel crawled away in shame. The European Christianity of which art for centuries had been the efflorescence was finished – no hip artist would be seen dead with it – but its morality hung over the continent like ancient incense, and the scolding curators and shame-artists were its priests.

I left the documenta Halle just before eight o’clock, as the festival was shutting up shop for the night. Walking along the hillside that rose from Friedrichsplatz towards the high point of the town, above the motorway and forests, I scanned the rain-soaked walkways and elevated gardens – all quite deserted – for stray artworks. Now and then I mistook real-life objects for artistic representations of themselves – like this tent, surely pitched by a refugee or a vagrant, perched on a hillside beauty spot, looking out over balustrades. But wait, it was a real artwork – as opposed to a real tent. I approached cautiously, just in case, but yes, it was made not of canvas but of sculpted marble, a creamy-gold hue, its folds and billows smooth and lovely under my palms. The tent seemed to radiate an inner luminescence, the brightest point on the wintry August landscape. I stepped around the front and found that the tent was open. Muddy footprints were splattered across the fl oor. I stuck my head inside to see if it reeked of piss: it did not. If I’d had a sleeping bag I’d have been tempted to buy a few cans and curl up in there for the night, looking out at the rain and getting plastered. I liked this sculpture. I felt a pull towards it, as if it were my home in another reality. True, I again had the sense of an artist wagging her finger at me – the ease of my life compared to the biblical sufferings of the refugees who flooded Europe – yet there was an optimism to this luminous tent, squat like a Buddha with its back to the middle-aged crowds of Kassel.

The next morning I hurriedly fixed a mug of instant coffee, skipping breakfast to make up for a late start, the students in adjacent blocks having kept me awake blasting hip-hop with bass that rattled the headboard. I read an email that had arrived while I was in the shower, from Nesrin. She instructed me to visit an address that Google Maps indicated to be nearby. Fifteen minutes later I arrived at a ground-floor address in a run-down block on a street that was deserted but for a dog that snarled weakly before descending into a pedestrian tunnel.

As Nesrin had indicated, the door was unlocked. I stepped inside, leaving it ajar behind me. In the centre of the small studio room was a bed, low and unkempt, whose soiled linen no doubt accounted for the reek of stale sweat that hung in the air. On the floor next to the bed were two red buckets, empty. Six words were written in black marker on the wall: Eternity has never been so precarious. Pasted around the text were a number of black-and-white photographs that, I realised with a start, had evidently been taken the previous evening: I was looking at myself, from a stalker’s distance, wandering in the rain through the deserted gardens at the top of the city. I’d had no sense of being followed; the awareness that I’d been the object of covert attention brought a nervous thrill. Spotting a black marker on the floor by the bed, I picked it up and wrote the words Fuck Arses next to the first message. Two could play this game. 

I spent the rest of the morning seeking out permanent installations from documentas past, the imaginative sediment that had accrued over decades on Kassel’s parks and squares. The rain held off and silvery light leached through the clouds that hung above the city, awaiting orders. A text came in as I walked towards the Hauptbahnhof – my curator friend Stavro in Berlin, telling me his friend Estefanio was in Kassel for the week; I ought to meet him, he’d know the best parties. On the plaza in front of the train station I descended a metal staircase into a disused underground station that had been repurposed as art space. Weeds sprouted from between the tracks. Long white sculptures resembling strands of DNA snaked through the cavernous structure. Whispering voices filled the air, emanating from unseen sources embedded in the walls. In the glow cast by erratic chandeliers, I noticed a woman on the other side of the tracks, further down the platform. She was dressed in black, with dark hair, and she was taking photographs. I stood watching her until finally she looked up. We gazed at each other for longer than seemed appropriate. Then she turned and walked through a doorway. After hesitating a moment I leaped down, crossed the tracks and followed her. I entered a room where iridescent, digitised mosaics rotated and breathed on the walls and floor. I was alone: she had left through one of three doors, or via the staircase.

Back in daylight, I stopped for lunch at a Lebanese restaurant that bustled with map-clutchers. I ordered a falafel and chips. While awaiting my meal I checked my inbox: there was a new email from Nesrin, sent only minutes earlier. An inline image manifested over several data-sucking seconds. The photograph was in black and white, grainy like a CCTV still. Once more I was looking at myself, from above and behind this time, standing in the grimy studio I had entered hours earlier, with the buckets on the floor. The scene was as I remembered it but for one jarring difference: the bed in the middle of the room was not empty. In it lay the body of an unnaturally tall woman – or the black, scratchy outline of one. It did not look as if the image had been superimposed so much as burned away, an acid-corroded silhouette revealing an underlying dimension. The face was indistinct, but it was easy to imagine it was screaming. I scrolled down. A line below the image read: Choose the caption you prefer. There was a list:

Endlessly disintegrating / My death waits like a witch in the night / Who I fucked and what it meant / Poetry from the past, projected into the future as violence /Love in an air raid / Love in a bomb shelter / Our hate will never die / Only I know how much I loved you / An infi nite and magnifi cent sorrow / Blood butterflies / Once and never again / Family of ghosts / An investigation into my own disappearance / The wanderer and her shadow / A knife without a blade, that has lost its handle / I stay alive only to haunt you / Whispering into a seashell on a beach in the north

I copied Love in an air raid and pasted it into my reply, adding no words to the message. Then I gazed again at the photograph. I hadn’t noticed any camera in the room: it must have been well concealed above the doorway. Again I felt that dark frisson of intimacy, a not entirely unwelcome sense of violation. I sent another one-line email: Was that you in the underground?

Out in the sunlight, with my wheeled suitcase at my side, I still felt like death, like shit, but it wasn’t the extravagant pain I’d woken to. My train left in five hours. Slowly I wheeled my suitcase through the centre of Kassel, past whispering installations and cheery tourists who roamed in the Sunday-morning calm. In a Turkish shop off Friedrichsplatz I bought two bottles of wine and, although I hadn’t smoked in years, a pack of cigarettes. Out in the street I sent Nesrin one last message, telling her again where I was going. I said I hoped she bled to death. I told her I would love her forever. I pulled my suitcase along the pathway that led up from the square, through bright gardens to the roof of the city. The hillside was deserted, as calm as a monastery garden. The marble tent looked no less lovely in the daylight. This time it did smell of piss. I chucked my suitcase inside. Then I clambered in too. I sat with my legs folded beneath me, in the doorway, looking out over the forest, and the autobahn that streaked to the horizon. Some dark-brown vomit had dried on my sleeve. The thought of catching the train no longer seemed compelling. In the high morning sun I opened the first bottle of wine and took a gulp. I felt the liquid pour down my gullet, sloshing through my insides to the pit of my stomach. With that first mouthful of wine I was drunk again, as drunk as I had ever been. I lit a cigarette, and thought maybe I would stay drunk forever.

Adapted from Threshold by arrangement with Bloomsbury USA. Copyright © 2020, Rob Doyle.

Apr 23 2020

28mins

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Ariana Reines: A Sand Book

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Ariana Reines recently won the prestigious Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. In this show from the archives, Reines discusses her A Sand Book poetry being centered around a theme of hiding: running away and trying to escape. There is a chorus of sobbing in this book; its metaphysical concentration is related to wandering. Reines speaks of books that go beyond themselves and stay with the reader; she wrote one, and reads three poems from it.

Her original interview can be found here.

Apr 16 2020

28mins

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Charles North: Everything and Other Poems

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Charles North discusses being taught poetry by the influential Kenneth Koch. And Charles North discusses the pleasures of poetry. He describes Everything and Other Poems as “messy poetry” without the formal demands of his earlier work. New poems emerge from a new freedom. The long poem, Everything, is about the nature of poetry, and its ability to speak about everything: everything belongs, and everything can be worded into its own original formulation.

Read an excerpt from the book:

Pain Quotient

for David Watson

1

How to explain tragedy to a deer. This is the assignment.—Well, it isn’t the assignment it’s in the general category of things assigned, like grow- ing to a mature height of four inches if you happen to be a certain strain of ornamental cactus, or being shamed back to life by any means possible. I like the idea that hope springs eternal especially as the adjective, not adverb suggests that spring is a verb of being rather than action, it doesn’t have to be imagined or looked forward to, or yearned for, or original in any sense of the word. The present which is always with us, regardless. Take the piano music of objects, the black-and-white, the mystical harmonics, bipolarities, etc.

2

The afternoon smells like rosemary, whereas the morning was on the visual side, jutting among the albums. Someone David knew, an actress, referred to the café Pain Quotidien as Pain Quotient, apparently with a straight face. The Daily Pain (which I seem to remember my father bringing home from work). Or if you happen to be in show business, the pan. Take the extremist willows.

3

5:30 p.m. The soul goes out for its walk—just be sure you’re back in time for supper. The colors look pasted on, washy blue like a robin’s egg seen through a landlord shade, then just washed away. Where is conceptual art when you need it. Everyone knows that Janus Weathercock and Cornelius Van Vinckboons are too good not to be true, but very few know of their connection to the poet John Clare. Or that “they” were in fact the same person, who not only worked for London Magazine in the early part of the 19th century but was, according to Clare’s biographer Jonathan Bate, “the Oscar Wilde of his day.” I say metaphors have it easy. Brahms surging, receding, churning the already churned foam of Being 

whereas Rachmaninov is like a fist to the heart.

4

Suppose everyone were a lot less talkative. Or were prohibited from talking to anyone who spoke the same language, not only people but houseplants, raccoons, self-service elevators, winged salesmen from the future, etc. A gem-like solid framed by a ribbon of aluminum light. Begins in speech but is diverted primarily by all the mistakes from the remembered past. Another episode has a word whirling around its phonemes which are also whirling. We were talking about shaming someone back into life, the blood verities; hanging in the air “like a memory lost” but recapturable if you don’t mind the mix of truth and sprawl, fragments of all that can be thought without accompaniment or fixation. Or whatness. Characters get dragged in kicking and screaming from the wings and forget their resonant ties to objects. To be calmer than a rug, a particle from the 1940s, dizzying, I’ll take it. But you can have the stifling dream states, like a perpetual air-raid. Why so many notions settling in the middle of the forehead like a tableau vivant—so much more cause than affect. The summer retired early; was forced out actually like the recorder family from mainstream music. Mixed-use but heartfelt skyline.

Cinémathèque

I mean, who isn’t heating up for the next life
on the order of Antoine Doinel, or a pot of unsweetened
chocolate.
Beginning with a single window and the sense
that what we know outgrows everything except a headache
or the desk dreaming on its own. It doesn’t matter
if being upright brings living beings closer to
the lives they lead (one’s 26-year-old self smokes a cigar
but isn’t a desperado) nor is beginning a poem with
someone’s wrath a means of stepping outside the self
as though volume equalled flesh tones—any more than the Epic of the Roast Chicken with Lyonnaise potatoes and Buttered Greens takes over the above-ground, colors and smells pushed aside.

Apr 09 2020

28mins

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Harry Dodge: My Meteorite: Or, Without the Random There Can Be No New Thing

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Harry Dodge’s My Meteorite: Or, Without the Random There Can Be No New Thing shifts its scale from the cosmos to viruses. Nothing escapes. Robots and artificial intelligence are discussed in detail. Materialist Dodge says that technology is made by organisms made by matter, so no technology is unnatural. He says, “We are always changing, we’re never fully formed.” This is a book of constant revelation, and a perfect blend of style and content.

An excerpt from “From My Meteorite: Or, Without the Random There Can Be No New Thing,” by Harry Dodge.

March 2016 I walked in — back from Houston — greeted the baby and Maggie and then we (all of us at once) noticed the small box on the front porch. I hauled it into the house and onto our dinner table, held my breath. They watched while I got a knife; there was only the sound of cardboard tearing and then I retrieved a bowling ball of a thing suffocated in Bubble Wrap,

which appeared to be accompanied by zot, neither invoice nor receipt, no language. Remarkably heavy. And bandaged like this, in a relentless sad tape job that looked like it had been performed by a mental patient. Maggie backed away, suddenly nervous, pulled Iggy aside by the back of his shirt. I looked at them and back at the thing; unwrapped it while they watched. There it was, an iron glob of gum. It was buzzing, it was glowing, just smaller than a human head, but much heavier. Unbelievably heavy for its size, like it had a different type of gravity that applied to it; an alien gravity might have applied. It was dark gray but metallic too and had deep pits lined in black: gooey tortuous crevices, folds which were also penetrated by black and burnished in zigs and snoods, coruscant at its facets, or scallops, its outermost convexities, which could have been observed at this point to have been no less vulnerable for being lustrous. It was a turtle from the event horizon, a dog head from Jupiter. All the weight gave two simultaneous and opposite impressions: the impression that it would like to have squirmed away (dropped away maybe? barreled right through the Earth and on into the empty blue-black of space?), and a kind of stalwart noble servitude unstained by fear. I am here telling you, it was saying hello.

Do you think it is radioactive? Are you sure about this rock? Maggie refused to touch it, pulled Iggy out of the room, before relenting just a moment later. We all touched it at once, gingerly, guilelessly. We stared. It was beautiful in the most banal and obvious sense of the word, I mean, plainly and strongly seductive, erotic. It did occur to me that it might spy on us, or resubstantiate like a compressed-foam Jesus into some sort of elephantine cuttlefish overlord, so I didn’t know where to keep it overnight. Maggie was astonished. How do you know it’s real, she asked several times. I showed her a small card I had finally uncovered swaddled beneath the meteorite. Here’s an info card. He said he would send a certificate of authenticity, but I don’t see anything here. Maggie reads the card and says, Found 1527. Argentina, yah, looks like the colonizing Spaniards came upon a group of people who showed them this field, Campo del Cielo, in 1527. So these rocks fell while humans watched.

I treated the meteorite as I would any guest and laid it gently down on a small red wool coaster. And then got under my own covers to sleep. I dreamed that for the rest of my life I would reinvest all of the money that came in from selling artwork to purchase more and more pieces of this particular meteorite, the Campo del Cielo. I would spend my life reuniting the fragments and slowly I would become famous, an artist known for this obsession, and when they were all back together, all of the pieces in one room, there would be a Terminator-like “Rise of the Machines” via this METALLIC REUNIFICATION, a Big Bang in reverse; this thing I had caused, this thing I knew to do. I would be an agent of divine-material chaos—but it wouldn’t be a drag, it would be fate, it would be lovely and epic and right. Like the best heroin but rather than singly ecstatic, encased in ugly nods, it would be ubiquitously, publicly salutary. The stress of the world would gather into a point and, having become too dense to be supported by the web of our collective desire, would whorl into a baby black hole and drop all of the matter of our galaxy through an interstellar poop-shoot into a teardrop-shaped bag of shit which would land in some nature canyon somewhere; it (terrestrial intersubjective tension and its more intellectual cousin, torsion) would then start again so meekly that it might be mistaken for the weak- force itself, gravity. It would glow and the magnetic field would start to creep around a new Earth in another part of the (still) observable universe. We’d all die but our constituent pieces would become other, much cooler, stuff. I woke up horny.

In the morning I decided to take the meteorite out of the house but didn’t know how to carry it; I chose a large clean canvas tote and tried not to bonk it around too much as I walked. It was metal but may as well have been flesh and bone. It was clearly alive to me: an iron creature. On a shelf just above my welder, I let it sit in my studio for three days without looking at it again.

But then things started to happen. Unbelievable things happened.

“From My Meteorite: Or, Without the Random There Can Be No New Thing” by Harry Dodge. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Harry Dodge, 2020.

Apr 02 2020

28mins

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Rebecca Solnit: Recollections of My Nonexistence

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Recollections of My Nonexistence is a personal, cultural, political, and journalistic hybrid narrative about formative years in the life of Rebecca Solnit. A first-person account from San Francisco in the 1980s, she describes finding her voice, and invokes the possibility of others finding their voices as well. Nobody should have to carry the burden of nonexistence. Solnit finds beauty in the contemporary revolution of storytelling, and says each voice has a capacity to bear witness to what’s happened.

Book excerpt: Recollections of My Nonexistence Chapter 1:

One day long ago, I looked at myself as I faced a full length mirror and saw my image darken and soften and then seem to retreat, as though I was vanishing from the world rather than that my mind was shutting it out. I steadied my- self on the door frame just across the hall from the mirror, and then my legs crumpled under me. My own image drifted away from me into darkness, as though I was only a ghost fading even from my own sight.

I blacked out occasionally and had dizzy spells often in those days, but this time was memorable because it appeared as though it wasn’t that the world was vanishing from my consciousness but that I was vanishing from the world. I was the person who was vanishing and the disembodied person watching her from a distance, both and neither. In those days, I was trying to disappear and to appear, trying to be safe and to be someone, and those agendas were at often odds with each other. And I was watching myself to see if I could read in the mirror what I could be and whether I was good enough and whether all the things I’d been told about myself were true.

To be a young woman is to face your own annihilation in in- numerable ways or to flee it or the knowledge of it, or all these things at once. “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world,” said Edgar Allan Poe, who must not have imagined it from the perspective of women who prefer to live. I was trying not to be the subject of someone else’s poetry and not to get killed; I was trying to find a poetics of my own, with no maps, no guides, not much to go on. They might have been out there, but I hadn’t located them yet.

The struggle to find a poetry in which your survival rather than your defeat is celebrated, perhaps to find your own voice to insist upon that, or to at least find a way to survive amidst an ethos that relishes your erasures and failures is work that many and perhaps most young women have to do. In those early years, I did not do it particularly well or clearly, but I did it ferociously.

I was often unaware of what and why I was resisting, and so my defiance was murky, incoherent, erratic. Those years of not succumbing, or of succumbing like someone sinking into a morass and then flailing to escape, again and again, come back to me now as I see young women around me fighting the same battles. The fight wasn’t just to survive bodily, though that could be intense enough, but to survive as a person possessed of rights, including the right to participation and dignity and a voice. More than survive, then: to live.

The director, writer, and actor Brit Marling said recently, “Part of what keeps you sitting in that chair in that room enduring harassment or abuse from a man in power is that, as a woman, you have rarely seen another end for yourself. In the novels you’ve read, in the films you’ve seen, in the stories you’ve been told since birth, the women so frequently meet disastrous ends.”

The mirror in which I saw myself disappear was in the apartment I inhabited for a quarter century, beginning in the last months of my teens. The first several years there were the era of my fiercest battles, some of which I won, some of which left scars I still carry, many of which so formed me that I cannot say I wish that it had all been otherwise, for then I would have been someone else entirely, and she does not exist. I do. But I can wish that the young women who come after me might skip some of the old obstacles, and some of my writing has been toward that end, at least by naming those obstacles.

Mar 26 2020

28mins

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Stephen Wright: Processed Cheese

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The entertaining syntax and vocabulary of Stephen Wright build a replica of our lunatic times in his new book, Processed Cheese. He writes about the need for money in our degraded era, the end of quality and the beginning of junk: Processed Cheese finds hilarity in the tragedy of contemporary life. A manic life feels worth living in this thoroughly human book that blows up in your face.

Mar 19 2020

28mins

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Jenny Offill: Weather

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Jenny Offill’s Weather is a book about people living very much in our times. Lizzie Benson becomes a librarian who helps people with their concerns about the future, then she becomes the letter writer for the popular podcast Hell and High Water. This is a podcast that teaches people how to live in the present moment without despair. Offill says her primary interest is to bring the sublime into the everyday, and the ordinary into the sublime: Weather is about the spirituality of dailiness.

Mar 12 2020

28mins

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Steven Sater: Alice By Heart

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Inspired by his adoration of Alice in Wonderland, Steven Sater wrote about a book that alters the mind and heart. Hiding in the Underground during World War II, another Alice tells the wonderland story to her friend sick with tuberculosis. Her goal is to escape from life into nonsense, invention, and imagination. Sater says he wants to reaffirm the power of the imagination, and inspire readers to reignite the wonder in themselves.

Mar 05 2020

28mins

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Charles Yu: Interior Chinatown

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The interior space of Willis Wu is composed of stereotypes about himself and others, which flattens his sense of existence, and he longs to be not a cliche but himself. An aspiring actor, on a procedural cop tv show, Black and White, he wants to be more than a kung fu guy. Interior Chinatown is a novel formatted as if a screenplay, but the characters are revealed by what they say to each other outside the script. Charles Yu discusses writing in the second person, and exploring the question of who is an American. Interior Chinatown is a contemporary novel about dealing with the difficulty of being whoever you are.


The first live audience Bookworm show, in the newly built KCRW performance studio. Photo by Christopher Ho.

Feb 27 2020

28mins

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Translators Suzanne Jill Levine, Jessica Powell, and Katie Lateef-Jan: The Promise and Forgotten Journey by Silvina Ocampo

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A discovery readers have been waiting for, more Silvina Ocampo finally translated into English: The Promise and Forgotten Journey. Suzanne Jill Levine, a prodigious translator of South American literature, and Jessica Powell translated the only novel Ocampo wrote, about a woman drowning in her memories after falling overboard, The Promise; Suzanne Jill Levine and Katie Lateef-Ian translated Ocampo’s debut story collection, Forgotten Journey-—stories escaped from as one moves forward in them. It's so nice to meet Ocampo, a friend to Jorge Luis Borges, translated into Italian by Italo Calvino, and married to Adolfo Bioy Casares. This is the time for her surrealism, gothic sensibility, and original sense of humor.

Feb 20 2020

28mins

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Tobias Wolff: This Boy’s Life

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One of the first books within a huge movement that restored respectability to memoirs, This Boy’s Life celebrates its thirtieth anniversary, and Tobias Wolff celebrates thirty years since being on Bookworm. Honest and readable writing, This Boy’s Life makes its way from beginning to end not as if a memoir, but as if life itself is the adventure we hope for, the making of a writer: a mother’s divorce, a terrifying first stepfather, an escape from home to a thoroughly-unprepared-for prep school; the details of a childhood turned desperate. Wolff says that one can never know what sort of life a book will have.

Feb 13 2020

28mins

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Fanny Howe: Love and I

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Love and I, poems by Fanny Howe, about love, the failure of love, and the transformation of love over the years. Howe describes passionate, erotic and emotional love as a dangerous part of her memory: now she knows love as the blood life of her grandchildren. Reading from Love and I, Fanny Howe says that hearing poetry can help one understand it; she might help change the mind of a person not already committed to poetry. 

Feb 06 2020

28mins

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Garth Greenwell: Cleanness

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Garth Greenwell is a writer of delicacy, beauty, and importance, writing about things you haven’t read about before. A poet turned fiction writer, Greenwell discusses engaging sex through its human facets and aspects, and comma-by-comma telling a reader what is thought and felt by his characters. Cleanness is a calm and passionate book with questions about power, cruelty, tenderness, and the fear that comes along when you reveal yourself to another person. Seeking human truths, Greenwell says he rejected easy stories and wrote into an abyss.

Jan 30 2020

28mins

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Daniel Mendelsohn: Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones

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Daniel Mendelsohn’s Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones is an uncommon collection of essays that intertwine the personal with the intellectual and critical. A student of the Classics, Mendelsohn says he writes to share his excitement about so often discovering, in contemporary materials, shadows of the great classics that formed the Western mind—passions that reach us from our past. Topics include Sappho of Lesbos, Karl Ove Knausgård writing about Mein Kampf, and Mendelsohn’s boyhood correspondence with the historical novelist Mary Renault, who inspired him to study the Classics.

Jan 23 2020

28mins

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Jonathan Blum: The Usual Uncertainties

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Jonathan Blum wrote characters with open destinies, in stories with open endings, for his new book of short stories, The Usual Uncertainties. He says that uncertainties govern our lives—who can we love and who can also love us, how are we going to die—and he wished to write of uncertainty without irritability, to accept and embrace uncertainty, and to build characters with unresolved conflicts. In this varied lot of twelve stories each story creates its own world, and interior difficulties are written with clarity.

Jan 16 2020

28mins

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